World View revives plans for stratospheric balloon passenger flights
WASHINGTON — World View, a company founded to carry people into the stratosphere to give them space-like views of the Earth, is reviving those plans, putting it into competition with two of its co-founders.
World View, based in Tucson, Ariz., announced Oct. 4 it is developing a passenger capsule that will be carried aloft by balloons to altitudes of about 30 kilometers. The Explorer Space Capsule will host eight passengers and two crew for flights lasting 6 to 12 hours, giving people a view of the Earth the company argues resembles that seen from space.
Tickets will cost $50,000 per person, with World View providing what it calls “flexible financing options.” The company expects the first flight no earlier than early 2024, with the nonprofit organization Space for Humanity, which offers spaceflight experiences for those who cannot afford tickets, buying the inaugural flight.
Ryan Hartman, chief executive of World View, said this new service is driven by four principles: place, time, affordability and accessibility. While flights will initially begin in Page, Arizona, near the Grand Canyon, the company expects to offer service in the future around the world, from near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt to Norway, to see the aurora borealis.
Time and affordability, he said, are tied to flight times far longer, and ticket prices much lower, than suborbital spaceflights offered by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. Accessibility is defined by an experience that doesn’t include the high G-forces of launches. “That’s our space tourism business,” he said.
Hartman said that World View is finalizing the design of the capsule and preparing to seek a license for flights from the Federal Aviation Administration through its Part 450 streamlined launch regulations. He said the company is fully funded for “this stage” of development but declined to say how much money World View needed for full development of the system.
This project is a return to World View’s origins nearly a decade ago. The company originally said it would develop a stratospheric balloon system called Voyager for carrying people, offering them an aspect of the spaceflight experience without actually going to space. However, several years later the company shifted its attention to uncrewed balloons called “stratollites” that carry imaging and communications payloads into the stratosphere for weeks at a time.
Two of World View’s co-founders, Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, announced in June 2020 a new venture called Space Perspective that would offer the passenger balloon flights World View originally planned to conduct. A year later, Space Perspective made its first uncrewed test flight and said it was starting to sell tickets at $125,000 per person.
Hartman declined in the interview to compare World View with Space Perspective. “I don’t know much about what Space Perspective is doing,” he said. “We’re really focused on what space tourism means for us.”
He added, though, that World View dropped the original Voyager concept because of its projected high cost. “It just really didn’t fit with the company at the time,” he said. World View will continue its stratollite business, he added, having resumed flights after a hiatus caused by the pandemic last year.
Hartman said he expected World View’s balloon flights to complement suborbital launches by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. “I think that many of their customers will look at what we have to offer as an additional way to experience viewing our Earth, and so we don’t consider ourselves competing head-to-head with them.”
He declined to give any demand projections, but expected the problem will be the number of flights it can perform, with about 100 per year at any given location given wind conditions. “We’re going to be supply limited, not demand limited.”